There are good arguments for photographers walking away from full frame/FX and APS-C/DX, instead going for medium format and Micro Four Thirds (MFT). This may be where cameras are heading in the future anyway.
Before you raise your hackles, hear me out. I should start by saying there is nothing wrong with your camera. All big brands make great models, and if what you own is probably perfect for your purposes. I’m not going to argue with that. Furthermore, if you are a competent photographer, I am sure you will be able to adjust your shooting techniques for getting the best out of any system you use. I also understand that you have invested a lot in the system you use and have an interest in it not becoming obsolete.
However, if you are thinking of changing your camera system for any reason, and there are a multitude of reasons why people do, or you are considering buying an interchangeable lens camera for the first time, then please mull over what I have to say.
The most compelling photography usually happens when we push parameters to extremes. Very fast and very slow shutter speeds typically produce better results than those that sit in the middle. Super wide-angle and telephoto lenses regularly bring us more exciting images. High- and low-key images look great, as do those with a lot of contrast and very little. Then, photos shot at low level or very high up generally hold more interest than those taken at eye level. When we shoot between those extremes, the photographs can become, for want of a better word, meh.
Challenging the conventions of the herd and shunning the commonplace can enhance your creativity, letting you stand out against the rest.
Therefore, should we consider choosing interchangeable lens cameras at the largest and smallest end of the range? If so, pushing the boundaries means that, instead of full frame and APS-C, we should think about the medium format and Micro Four Thirds.
I can already hear the steam coming from under your collar, but let me explain further.
The Argument Against Full Frame and For Medium Format
Again, I reiterate that images shot with any camera can be superb. There’s nothing wrong with the full frame you have. It's well made, and you take superb photos with it.
Nevertheless, the results of images best suited to larger sensor cameras are not the same on full frame as can be achieved with a medium format camera. Moreover, medium format is relatively rare, whereas full frame cameras, while maybe not 10-a-penny, are widespread. Shoot with a medium format camera, and the result has a greater chance of uniqueness.
Then, on top of that, there is the price overlap, which is growing. Medium format cameras are coming down in price. A Fujifilm GFX 50S II retails at $3,999 while a Canon EOS R5 is only $100 less, while the EOS R3 is $2000 more. Additionally, the physical size of medium format cameras is shrinking, making them more versatile in the field; the GFX 50S II (149.9 x 104.1 x 86.4 mm) is about the same size as a Canon 5D Mark IV (150.7 x 116.4 x 75.9 mm).
Yes, there are some functionality differences, and the overall cost of a medium format system is more. Nevertheless, If you've been arguing in favor of full frame over crop frame cameras, then, logically, the same arguments apply to medium format over full frame. Therefore, you should upgrade.
The Argument Against APS-C and for Micro Four Thirds
Here's looking at the other end of the sensor-size scale and why Micro Four Thirds (MFT) may push other crop sensor formats from the market. Getting back to my introduction, this is about taking advantage of the extremes, and like medium format, MFT is an extreme.
I want you to forget the boring arguments from the usual detractors of crop frame cameras. They are usually driven by two factors: justification for their own more expensive choice and commercial interest. The arguments are skewed too, only presenting the supposed disadvantages and none of the advantages of crop frame systems.
Moreover, their criticisms aimed at MFT are invariably based on comparisons with a full frame. But that is comparing apples and oranges. A better comparator would be with other crop-sensor formats, such as APS-C and Nikon’s DX.
Just like the comparison between full frame and medium format, a big advantage of MFT is that their images are rarer than those shot with the ubiquitous APS-C cameras. This difference will help your photos stand out from the crowd.
There is not a huge difference in sensor size between MFT and APS-C. But because MFT is slightly smaller, it is more capable of taking advantage of the crop factor benefits.
What are the system's advantages? Firstly, it is the reduced perspective, bringing background subjects closer to the foreground for any given focal length. That crop factor also means that the same focal length can be used to achieve a greater effective magnification, thus allowing wildlife photographers to get closer to the subject with physically smaller lenses. Similarly, macro shooters have a greater magnification too.
You will often hear the uneducated complaint about the depth of field (DOF) at particular f-stops of MFT cameras. However, DOF is only partially affected by the aperture. Proximity to the subject, focal length, plus viewing size of the image also have a bearing. MFT just needs a different way of working, and you can say the same about any system. There are fast lenses with great-looking bokeh available at all focal lengths; MFT shooters can and do blur their backgrounds.
Additionally, we photographers don’t always want the shallowest depth of field; just because you have an f/1.2 aperture doesn’t mean you will be shooting at that setting. For example, with a portrait, we may want the whole face in focus and not just the eyes. There are also times when we want to add background detail for context, and MFT can do this at a wider aperture. Then, with landscapes, we often want back-to-front sharpness, something that's easier to achieve at a wider aperture with MFT.
With the massive advances in modern sensor technology, the image quality of MFT is so good that any real-world differences in quality between it and APS-C are redundant. After all, look at the excellent quality of modern cell phones. Their sensors are far smaller than MFT, yet for a few photographic genres, people are shooting more than adequate photos with them.
If you want further convincing, look at the photographs taken by the top pros that use Micro Four Thirds. For example, in Joe Edelman's photography, you would be hard-pressed to tell his photos apart from those shot on any other system.
On top of all that, there are the practicalities and ergonomics of shooting. The MFT system brings huge advantages in size and weight. With the aging population, a smaller, lighter system that delivers outstanding results is massively appealing. This advantage doesn’t just apply to older photographers. Having previously worked in outdoor education, I know mountain guides, sailors, canoeists, and hikers who happily carry the rugged, weather-sealed, and diminutive OM-D cameras on their adventures.
The small size and weight of MFT make the cameras great for genres as diverse as travel, landscape, wedding, wildlife, and photojournalism, plus everything in between. Their discreteness suits street photographers too; larger systems become obvious and can get in the way.
Will Canon and Nikon Catch Up?
Sadly, for their dedicated fans, it will probably take time for Canon and Nikon to catch up. Historically, those brands were regularly late to the game in adapting to the latest advancements. They were behind in adopting mirrorless, slow implementing in-body image stabilization, and, even now, Canon hasn’t restyled their cameras to the more attractive modern look that even Nikon has finally embraced with the Z fc.
Moreover, when they have finally made changes, the results from those brands have, at times, seemed rushed and inadequate. The Nikon 1 system was a flop, and the Canon R5 was brought to market with an overheating problem.
So, let’s hope, if they do ever swap to medium format or even MFT, they learn the lessons of their past and don't launch before they have properly tested their cameras.
Back in 2017, Sony was believed to be developing a medium format camera with a curved sensor, and new patents for the design of lenses have been trickling in ever since. If that happens, and Nikon and Canon don't catch up soon, they will either miss the boat or rush out another poorly conceived model. I wonder if there will be any other surprise announcements around the corner from other brands.
Thinking out of the Box About Camera Systems
Do you shoot full frame? If so, are you tempted to switch to medium format now that they are becoming more affordable? Or, if you were starting afresh, would you reject medium format in favor of full frame/FX? Alternatively, has the convenience and the quality of contemporary cameras in the smaller MFT system already made you abandon a larger format?
If you managed a camera brand, and in the context of the rapidly-shrinking market, would you take notice of the steady leakage of customers to both the bigger and smaller formats, would you be pushing your research and development department to change tack? Would medium format and MFT be in your game plan?
There are, of course, counterarguments for my point of view. As always, I welcome a friendly discussion about that in the comments. Thanks for reading.